OpEd: Five clauses for a new European Social Contract

15/05/2019 - OpEd from PES Ministers of Employment and Social Affairs

Young worker

Social progress is a fundamental objective of the EU. The European Welfare States are part of our economic success, they make us stronger worldwide. Social security is not an economic burden, but a fundamental element of the European Union, it is both a social and a competitive advantage that needs to be protected and continuously developed.

The promise of social progress is embedded in the EU treaties. Yet, our society is not perceived as being fair enough, citizens feel a loss of control and the repetition of crises left some long-lasting after-effects in their daily life, across the Union. We must act to keep this promise. This is the way to show that the EU is a Union for the citizens, which improves their living and working conditions. It is the way to strengthen solidarity and regain confidence in the EU.

Yes, the financial crisis is by and large behind us. But it would be a huge mistake not to look at the scars it has left behind. One out of four children in Europe still lives at risks of poverty or social exclusion. Wages are still increasing twice slower than a decade ago. In too many countries low paid workers have not yet seen their pay raise, while top earners income continues to grow fast. Precarious work and unemployment are still too high: newly-created jobs are mainly temporary or part-time, or fake self- employment, and over 32 million workers were living under the poverty threshold in 2017. Last but not least, women still earn 16% less than men on average in the EU.

Inequality within and between EU countries must be dramatically reduced and the concentration of wealth in the hands of a privileged few must stop. It fuels anti-elite, anti-politics, anti-feminist/gender sentiments and puts wind in the sails of populists. Conservatives’ and Liberals’ trickle-down economics simply have not worked. Radical change is required to build a project for the future which all Europeans can believe in, which all European can endorse, which all Europeans can sign up to.

As Socialist and Democrats, we are resolutely committed for this change to happen. For us, the social dimension must be at the heart of the European project, ensuring solidarity, social cohesion and that no one is left behind. As Employment and Social Affairs ministers, this was our fight in the Council. And we won some battles during this mandate. Our European Youth Guarantee is a success, it has helped more than 9 million young people find their way to employment. The revised Posting of workers Directive now better protects workers against exploitation and unfair competition. We fought hard and obtained the European Pillar of Social Rights, a compass for the social Europe we want. To implement it we supported the adoption of directives that better acknowledge parental rights, that better frame employers’ obligation towards workers in non-standard forms of employment, such as digital workers and that establish a European Labour Authority. We also adopted a Recommendation on access to social protection to all workers.

These are important steps, but we want to go further. For all citizens to regain a sense that there is a place for them in the society that comes, in the EU, we support a new Social Contract for Europe.

Inequality within and between EU countries must be reduced, and it is crucial to prevent poverty, protect those in need and create opportunities for all. For us, the first clause of this contract acknowledges a European duty to protect people if they fall sick, lose their job, suffer disabilities or fall on hard times. The right to quality healthcare, free education, decent pensions and affordable housing is universal and must be defended. We want to promote a Child Guarantee to put an end to child poverty and make sure that the nearly 25 million children under 18 are at risk of poverty or social exclusion in the EU are no longer left behind.

The second clause of this contract clearly states that unemployment and social exclusion must be tackled collectively, not dismissed as individual failings. People of all ages have a right to work, to education, training, lifelong learning and to live in dignity.

Our contract stipulates that Europe is a continent of welfare with strong welfare states, social safety nets, and quality public services. It is this welfare system that prevents poverty and protects citizens and particularly those in need, may they be young, old, in precarious work or unemployed.

Our contract sets the principle of equal pay for equal work at the same place as a clear rule. Gender should not be a reason for lower wages. Lower wages should not be used for unscrupulous companies to integrate dumping on their business model. There must be minimum wages, by law or collective bargaining, to protect all European workers.

And finally, our new social contract makes it clear that social dialogue is a cornerstone of our social model, that trade unions must be further supported and the primacy of collective bargaining be restored, as the best way to improve wages and working conditions.

The May 2019 European elections are our opportunity to change the EU and build a fairer Europe. It’s time for social progress to happen. This is the fight of our common candidate, Frans Timmermans. It is the fight of Social Democrats across Europe. It is our fight. Our signature stands already at the end of this new European social contract, what about yours?

José António Vieira da Silva, Ministers, Minister of Labour, Solidarity, and Social Security,
Chair of the PES network of Employment and social affairs, Portugal; Hubertus Heil, Minister of Labour and Social Affairs, Germany; Franziska Giffey, Federal Minister for Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth, Germany; Dan Kersch, Minister for Labour, Employment, Social and Solidarity Economy, Luxembourg; Romain Schneider, Minister for Social Security, Luxembourg
Ján Richter, Minister of Labour, Social Affairs and Family, Slovakia; Magdalena Valerio Cordero, Minister of Labour, Migration and Social Security, Spain; Ylva Johansson, Minister for Employment, Sweden

As published in Observador.